ketanji brown jackson

Jackson Confirmation Hearings Off to a Smooth Start, But Republicans Preview Attacks

Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

It was an abbreviated first day of confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson on Monday, involving opening statements by Judge Jackson, a few key endorsers, and all 22 Senate Judiciary Committee members (11 from each party). But amid the near-universal praise for the nominee’s character and qualifications, Republicans previewed lines of attack on the judge’s confirmation that will become sharper and more direct in the next three days of questioning. And the preliminary GOP carping was less about Jackson than about alleged Democratic radicalism, culture-war messages the GOP plans to deploy in the 2022 general elections, and abundant whining about past hearings for conservative nominees (especially Brett Kavanaugh).

Democratic committee members mostly limited themselves to praise for Judge Jackson’s career, legal brilliance, and precedent-breaking status as the first Black woman to be nominated to the Court, though Senate president pro tem and former Judiciary chairman Pat Leahy of Vermont probably raised a few eyebrows by noting that this is the 21st Supreme Court confirmation in which he has participated (he is in his eighth Senate term).

From the get-go, Republicans reminded people of what they characterized as the terrible treatment Judiciary Democrats meted out to now-Justice Kavanaugh, mostly by way of promising they would be less “personal” in their criticisms of Jackson (presumably sexual-assault allegations are less likely in her case). Ted Cruz of Texas went into a fuller history of grievances about Republican SCOTUS nominees dating back to Robert Bork, which supposedly spoiled an Elysian tradition of nonpartisanship.

Lindsey Graham distinguished himself with a different whine, all but promising to vote against Jackson because “the radical left” had vetoed his preferred nominee, Judge J. Michelle Childs.

Virtually all GOP Judiciary members recited their devotion to constitutional originalism, the separation of powers, and judicial restraint, and they indicated they would deplore Jackson’s presumed lack of fidelity to these principles. But the obnoxiousness to come was telegraphed by Tom Cotton, Josh Hawley, and Marsha Blackburn. Cotton opened with guns blazing at the “lawlessness” of the Biden administration’s “power grabs,” which threatened no less than “the breakdown of society.”

Hawley had a much narrower focus, doing a transparent shout-out to QAnon and Pizzagate enthusiasts by suggesting that Jackson had been soft on child predators on the bench (a line of attack slapped down earlier in the day by conservative writer and former prosecutor Andrew McCarthy, who called it “meritless to the point of demagoguery”).

Blackburn, the final Republican to speak today, served notice that she will use the hearings as an occasion to reinforce attacks on Democrats for wanton disregard of “parental rights,” which ranks right up there with crime and inflation as a midterm GOP topic. The Tennessean launched a non-germane attack on transgender athletes before sideswiping Jackson for serving on the board of a private school that offers anti-racism training and honors gender self-identification.

Republicans occasionally alluded to the nominee’s background as a public defender and as someone who has represented Guantánamo Bay prisoners. But Jackson came fully prepared to quietly undermine the suggestion that she is a wild-eyed radical or the puppet of socialists, militant atheists, and other GOP bogeymen. After introductions by her Harvard Law School classmate (and now law professor) Lisa Fairfax and former George W. Bush–administration appointee to the D.C. Court of Appeals (and Senate legal counsel) Thomas Griffith, Jackson’s brief opening statement hit just about every conservative theme you could think of: There were repeated invocations of her religious faith, her patriotism, her devotion to family, her ethic of hard work, and her respect for the rule of law.

As anticipated by Republicans who have privately conceded that this confirmation will succeed, albeit quite possibly by a strict party-line vote, Judge Jackson is unlikely to trip herself up and may well boost the already robust public support for her ascent to the Court. Republicans don’t want to look nasty and personal, much less racist or sexist, to independent audiences. But the GOP’s real target in these hearings is the president who nominated Jackson, and its real audience isn’t swing voters but a base that demands fireworks.

Jackson Confirmation Hearings Off to Smooth Start